Last week NASA delayed its plans to award a pair of crewed lunar Lander contracts that were to be awarded under the Trump administration timeline to get to the moon in 2024. The delay comes after a funding cut from Congress, and the Biden administration changes its focus to other issues. Last year, SpaceX, Blue Origin, and Dynetics were granted a combined $967 million in funding to develop concepts for a human lunar landing system.
Those awards were the first effort to spend money on astronaut moon landers by NASA since the Apollo program ended. In the middle of last week, NASA told the three contractors that an extension to the development contracts was required. The new award date chosen was April 30. NASA had previously intended to choose two of the three contractors in late February.
By choosing two contractors, NASA would approve two systems that would carry humans back to the moon. The delay comes as no surprise after Congress passed a spending bill in December awarding NASA $850 million for the Human Landing System program. The award is a massive cut compared to the $3.2 billion required to meet the 2024 timeline set before.
NASA has said that it is still committed to the 2024 timeline to return to the moon. With the new presidential administration in office, Biden’s team is focused more on climate change and the pandemic. The long-term fate of the Artemis program is uncertain. NASA says the delay allows more time to evaluate the proposals and gives it the ability to seamlessly transition from the development phase.
NASA has also been clear that it doesn’t have to take the full extension. It could award lander contracts earlier. The extension also gives the bidders more time to design and develop the landers.